Diane Hill, Senior Writer and editor of SHE, the Canadian Women’s Foundation magazine. Former office cleaner, factory worker, auto mechanic, planning technician, therapy dog handler, graphic designer, social issue researcher, published poet, and freelance writer. Now has best job ever: helping women share their stories to create social change.
Does the idea of becoming a leader make you anxious? Are you already so over-extended that the thought of ‘leaning in’ makes you ready to fall over? Do you think becoming a leader means being aggressive—and that’s just not you? Many women seem to resist taking on leadership. Maybe the problem isn’t us, but our concept of leadership itself.
IN THE NORTHERN ALBERTA TOWN of Fort Mackay, a group of Aboriginal and Métis girls sit quietly in a school classroom. Their eyes are closed.
It is Day One of the Friendly PEERsuasian program, where these adolescent girls will learn healthy ways to cope with stress and peer pressure. One of the main goals of the girls' program, which runs in ten schools across the region, is to help the girls avoid the deadly trap of substance abuse that has claimed so many young people in their communities. If all goes well, they will also learn to become healthy role models—PEERsuaders— for younger girls.
After a long break, I’ve started working out again. Every morning I sweat along with the cheerful woman on my exercise DVD as she calls out the standard encouragements: “You’re doing great!” and “We’re almost there!”
But she also says something I find profound: “Challenge to change!” In other words, if my workout isn’t making me uncomfortable it probably won’t give me the results I want. The idea motivates me when I’ve had enough, allowing me to do 10 (or two) more jumping jacks.
Yes or no? Should you or shouldn’t you? Should you apply for that promotion? Should you have children, or more children, or no children? Go back to school? Buy that house? Get married? Run for office?
Big life choices like these aren’t easy. Since they usually require weighing our own needs against those of others, they can be especially tricky for women. Many of us have trouble even noticing our needs. Most of the time our first instinct is to put others first, even if it means acting against our own best interests.
The theme of our first issue of SHE magazine
was "finding our voice", so we invited members of the Canadian Women’s Foundation community to tell us about an outspoken woman who inspired them.
Read their answers, then tell us about a trailblazing woman who inspired you!
In high school Ben Lord attended “Making Waves,” a violence prevention program that continues to reverberate through his life. As told to Diane Hill.
In my high school, students who attended the Making Waves violence prevention program put on a play called The Many Faces of Abuse.* I saw it when I was in Grade 9 and got chills. The next year, I attended the program. When I graduated, I came back as a Making Waves facilitator.
The program opened my eyes to a lot of things I hadn’t thought about before, like how a lot of relationship problems are about gender.
Every hour of every day, a woman in Alberta will experience some form of interpersonal violence from an ex-partner or ex-spouse.* That’s one of the chilling facts discovered by Lana Wells, the Brenda Strafford Chair at the University of Calgary, in her groundbreaking report “Preventing Domestic Violence in Alberta: A Cost Savings Perspective.” Her research was funded by the Canadian Women’s Foundation and coauthored by Casey Boodt and Dr. Herb Emery.
“We didn’t know the full economic costs of domestic violence,” Wells says. “I wanted to build a business case so government would have strong data to make better decisions on funding and policy.” Her findings were startling enough to convince the Province of Alberta to make a significant investment in additional research and to spend the next two years developing a new policy framework designed to prevent family violence.
In a sparsely furnished meeting room in suburban Ottawa, a group of young women sit in a circle, talking quietly. Outside, you can tell spring is on the way.
The women are members of Young Women at Risk, a weekly support group for women who have experienced violence. Each Thursday, they meet in a former classroom of a converted school, now an outreach centre for young mothers. The room contains a few chairs, a children’s playhouse in primary colours, two diaper change tables, and a folding table with an urn of stale coffee. The sound of children on their way to the playground can be heard echoing out in the hallway.
When I was 19, I was an apprentice mechanic. I spent my days rotating tires, changing engine oil, and doing tune-ups. I was fascinated by cars and it paid a lot more than my previous factory jobs.
At the time, I was one of two female mechanics in the entire province of Ontario—so unusual that astonished customers would gape at me. Some didn’t want me touching their car; others lurked nearby while I worked, certain I didn’t know what I was doing. One businessman in a nice suit was so alarmed when I lifted the spare tire out of his trunk he tried to grab it away from me, getting his hands filthy in the process. Despite this, I loved my job.
Michelle Lochan had the passion to be an entrepreneur, but raising five children on her own made it tricky. Then she got the right kind of help. As told to Diane Hill.
When you help a woman start her own business, you affect her children too. They want to mirror her independence and they learn to trust their own decisions. Improving her self-sufficiency also means she can leave an abusive husband if necessary, because she has her own income. That is the voice I speak from.
What’s the best way to teach kids to wash their hands to prevent the spread of disease? Show them how fast germs can spread using chemicals and a black light.
How can you get girls interested in math? Ask them to budget for a water filtration project to provide clean water for communities.
These are just two simple examples of how Actua, an innovative national organization, helps girls to discover exciting careers in STEM (science, engineering, technology, and math).
“We know young girls are really interested in science,” says Jennifer Flanagan, CEO of Actua. “But that interest can start to wane if it’s not supported.”